RSP Film Room No. 119: QBs Lamar Jackson And Josh Allen In The Pocket

Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room compares and contrasts the pocket play of 2018 NFL Draft quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen.

Quarterback is the most difficult position in sports because it demands the greatest range of skills — including significant access to the physical, mental, technical, creative, and emotional parts of our being. If you’ve been an effective leader of adults for several years, you have an idea of what I’m talking about — even if your job isn’t physical.

As much as we say we understand that quarterbacking requires this difficult balance of skills and traits, when it comes to the conversation of quarterback development, fans and analyst behavior indicates otherwise: we over-emphasize the physical and mental; we falsely presume the technical will be taught and learned; and while we celebrate the creative and emotional victories of the position, we scoff at the analysis that values it.

Terms like intangibles, leader, toughness, and poise have earned a bad rap from draftniks because they’ve been misused for so long. Think of any weak-armed, slow-footed, under-sized quarterback with strong college production and its likely that football media used these four terms so often that it’s become an unwritten code for “good college player, bad NFL prospect,” said in a nice way.

We can forget that soft skills often set apart the best leaders because we recall instances where ineffective leaders with sub-par hard skills but decent interpersonal skills avoided being found out while wreaking havoc in the workplace. However, there are lots of ineffectual leaders who earned positions based on the appeal of hard skills — practical experience — who can’t get the job done because they don’t know how to make consistent decisions that set up their teammates for lasting success.

Poise is one of the soft skills of quarterbacking that separates top NFL passers with long careers as starters from celebrated NFL prospects whose best moments are stuck in Saturday Land. Poise is much like a running back’s vision because it’s a broad term that encompasses a diverse set of trained skills that a player must tie together at the speed of instinct.

This episode of the RSP Film Room examines several plays of Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen from the pocket and against pressure. Based on their pre-snap and post-snap reads of the field, physical reactions to pressure, footwork, and throwing decisions, there’s compelling evidence that one of these quarterbacks has NFL-caliber poise and the other is lacking.

Although I only used three games of tape between the two passers, this conclusion isn’t based on these games alone. It also doesn’t mean that the passer with the greater poise can’t lose it and the other will never gain it.

The most sweeping statement I’ll make based on this analysis is that I can’t believe that any mature, experienced evaluator of NFL quarterbacking talent would examine Lamar Jackson and think that Jackson isn’t a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect — and I’m the same analyst who equated any team’s love for Terrelle Pryor’s quarterbacking potential to beer goggles at closing time.

While I still have many more lessons to learn about the game and quarterback evaluation is arguably the most difficult, I’ve had my share of successes where many missed. I’m saying this because after watching several games of these quarterbacks, it seems to me the most promising and poised (and often more refined) decision-maker, technician, and strategist is the subject of suggestions that he should try his hand at wide receiver.

For analysis of skill players, get the 2018  Rookie Scouting Portfolio, now available for pre-order. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each.

5 responses to “RSP Film Room No. 119: QBs Lamar Jackson And Josh Allen In The Pocket”

  1. Ravens and MW fan here. It looks like your analysis on Lamar Jackson was a a rare and unpopular one, but you are being proven right by his play this year. A lot of Mike Vick comparisons a are being made. How would you compare the two? I love your work. Keep it up, sir.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Jackson and Vick have a similar big-play skill on the ground but Jackson has been wiser about when to be physical and generally avoids a lot of the contact that Vick didn’t. It is also kinder, gentler NFL now than it was back then so there’s likely some changes of mindset that might encourage Jackson’s decision-making to be careful in ways that weren’t always the case in the past.

      Vick was never as good in the pocket in the NFL as Jackson was at Louisville. Vick said as much before the draft. Vick dropped his eyes a lot when pressure arrived and overreacted to pressure in ways that forced him to run even if there were opportunities to throw. Vick finally showed signs of becoming a skilled passer under Andy Reid but his pocket play was often a limiter. Vick had a better arm in terms of velocity to the perimeter.

      Those are major differences.

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